Sport is about the challenge. My all-time favorite quote in terms of creating a mindset for me in my athletic career was from iconic Olympic rower, Marnie McBean:
“My impression of Olympic gold medalists plummeted when I won one myself.”
The point is that Marnie, before she won her first gold, assumed that it was some kind of super-human feat or that the winner had some kind of incredible talent or knowledge that everyone else didn’t. Essentially, the experience proved to her that the assumption was incorrect. Certainly a number of factors have to align, and for me luck played a significant role at many times in my journey, but it’s not impossible and it’s certainly not super-human. To quote Marnie again, it’s just “ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”
The whole experience has left me with the realization that the people most worth our admiration may or may not be champions at what they do. One of the premises of this blog is the fact that positive attitudes and certain values contribute to success in sport (and in life for that matter) but obviously there are many athletes (and people) for whom I have a great deal of respect who have never won an Olympic medal.
“We are too much in awe of people who succeed and far too dismissive of those who fail.” Malcolm Gladwell
Max Thompson was a nordic combined skier for Canada at the Torino Games and like me was staying in the Olympic village in Sestriere. I had seen Max around the athlete’s lounge watching other athletes compete but the first time I ever had a conversation with him was in the dining hall a few days after my race. I was sitting with my teammate Paul Boehme and the Australian skeleton coach, a retired American slider by the name of Terry Holland, as well as a few hundred other athletes and coaches from numerous countries. Max walked over to us, put his hand up to give me a high five and said “Hey man, I just saw your bio. Fire fighter, gold medal, senior citizen, all right!” There was definitely a part of me that thought, am I giving a high five to someone who just called me a senior citizen? But I couldn’t help but immediately like him. Think about what kind of 21 year-old you’d have to walk up to a complete stranger in front of his friends and say that!
Several days later, on the night of the closing ceremonies, I ran into Max again and at the time he was looking for someone. He mentioned that he had to find a nordic combined official from another country to give her his Olympic team jacket. Surprised that someone in his position would be trying to give away such a prized possession, I asked him why and he said that he had been relying on this person for the past season to transport his ski jumping skis from competition to competition because he couldn’t afford the extra baggage charges. He wanted to show his gratitude.
That was a bit of an eye-opener for me in that we often complain about the fact that there are countries in the world that fund sport to a larger extent than Canada. Perhaps I’m biased but I strongly believe that we’d be better off as a nation if we did invest more in sport. There was a campaign recently asking that the federal government increase the budget for sport to just 1% of the budget for health care. To my way of thinking, sport is an extremely effective method of preventative health care – we support sport, our athletes succeed, more and more kids are inspired to participate and follow in their footsteps and we as a nation become healthier.
I’ve certainly complained about a lack of funding more than once but in reality, at least in Torino, I was in a position of not being able to think of anything that I wish I had but couldn’t afford that would have made my preparation better for the Games. And in contrast here was a guy who was a member of the same Olympic team as I, who was a skier who couldn’t afford to travel with skis! If my skeleton career had been like that, I don’t know that I would have stuck with it long enough to succeed at a World level. Because of that, I admire Max and what he’s had to endure and the type of character he obviously has to have made it to the level he did. Would I admire him more if he had won an Olympic medal? I don’t think so.
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